PhD status: Imminent

It’s about to start, my PhD course. I’m officially registered now, but as of Monday, I will be a probationary PhD student. I have a week of induction to get through, then the project begins. I’m excited and nervous all wrapped up in one; there’s a lot of networking to get through next week and networking is not something I’m very good at. At the moment, at least. Things always improve with practice and I’m going to be getting a lot of practice!

This course is going to be very different to anything that I’ve done before. My two previous degrees were both taught degrees: that is, there were a series of modules with assigned credits, classes that I had to show up for, assignments to complete – to above specific marks – in order to pass. In other words, a taught student, whether BA or MA, is marching to someone else’s drum. The learning is predefined, even the assignments (dissertation apart) are predefined.

A PhD, as a research degree, is completely different. The PhD is about researching, not to tell your teacher how much you know, but to push the boundaries. To provide something new, original. This graphic from Matt Might describes it very well. To put it succinctly: I’m aiming to grow a pimple on the face of human knowledge. But there are no restrictions other than the ones you, yourself, place. There are milestones that you have to hit, certain things to achieve, yes, but otherwise, this time, I’m the drummer. I’m the one leading the way, determining what my project is, what I research, and what – and even when – I submit. It’s difficult for non-academics to understand, I think, the huge difference between the two – and the terrifying emptiness, almost, that seems to herald the next three years. This time two years ago, or last year? I was busy – putting class dates, assignment due dates, into my diary. This time around? Nothing. I have induction dates. I have a date in 2019 when my funding runs out. I have a date in 2020, when I HAVE to submit my thesis by. Beyond that… nothing. The pages of my diary currently gleam as cleanly as they do on January 1st.

Having said that, I’ve been doing some reading over the last few days – of University regulations, mostly – and I’ve gained a much better idea of what is expected of me as a result. I have to pass a probationary review in a year, which involves writing a probationary review report (only 5-10k words) and face a probational review panel. I will have monthly supervisory meetings, and at the end of the second year (and third, if I have not submitted by then), a progress review report (2.5k words) and panel. I am expected to undertake a certain amount of skills and career development training – exactly what, is left to the student. And that doesn’t account for any additional things that I need to do as a Midlands3Cities student. It’s clear that I am the one who has to take responsibility for driving my learning, not just in terms of showing up, not even in terms of organising meetings (which I will have to do) but in terms of leading the meeting, in terms of being the one doing most of the talking, in terms of making sure the project Gets Done.

I can’t wait!

Next week’s induction promises to be busy. I am lucky, at least, in that it’s on familiar ground; I know where to go and I won’t be one of those people peering at a map wondering where the *bleep* XYZ room is. Monday is the initial introductory session with the Postgraduate Tutor. Tuesday I head to Birmingham, to the ICC, for a two-day residential school with M3C that promises to be extremely exhausting and SO MUCH fun! Thursday I’m back at Leicester, for more training and a school social, then Friday for yet more training and New History Lab (expect to hear more about the fantastic Lab over the next few years). The following Wednesday sees the Graduate School Induction, and then the week after, the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities Induction.

And then the project begins. I’ll have my first formal supervisory meeting, probably with all three of my supervisors, so we’re all on the same page, marching to the same drum, etc. (I’m thinking of bringing cake. 🙂 You can’t go wrong with a bit of cake, can you?). I expect to be told to go away, work on research questions, construct a timeline, begin a lit review, think about what training I need. Then report back in a month with where I am. It’s scary because it’s totally dependent on me to drive it. You have to have self-discipline in spades to do this, and it’s something that I’m going to have to learn to do (I’m not, I freely admit, very good at self-discipline. I am, on the other hand, TOTALLY excellent at procrastination). But I do have some powerful motivators for doing this and I think they’ll see me through. Help me to sit down at my desk and keep bashing at my keyboard even when it’s the absolute last thing I feel like doing.

I’m not sure, at this point, what form the blog will take over the next few months. I want to try to keep writing here; not just to share my thoughts on what I’m reading/discovering, but also to keep a track of my progress. That sort of reflective thinking, understanding where you’ve come from as well as where you’ve got to go, and where you are now, is crucial, I think, in keeping mentally healthy. (Of course, there’s more to keeping mentally healthy than just this but hey, this PhD ain’t about mental health…!) I do know one other thing though.

It’s going to be a hell of a ride. 🙂

Coming?

 

break from work

The last few days have seen me have a break from my studies – mostly due to my Mum visiting from Thursday evening. So, a bit of a catch up…

Wednesday was primarily focused on preparation for Mum’s visit. I did do some reading of the Coward book, but not a huge amount. Mostly it was cleaning and preparing her room, that sort of thing.

Thursday we were paid so I went food shopping for the weekend in the morning, immediately after I’d dropped my partner at the station. Tesco was so quiet at that time of day, it was really pleasant. Will repeat that because it’s so much better than shopping when everyone else is. This is one of the things that has to be remembered about studying at this level: because so often you’re working at weekends and in the evenings, things like buying food and taking care of the house still have to be done and sometimes study has to give way to allow for these things at times that others might find odd.

In the afternoon I went to the New History Lab’s career workshop. It was a really good workshop, led by two lecturers at the University and it was really useful, explaining how career choices can affect things like your REF score, what sort of things we should be thinking about when we read job adverts, and how to frame an academic CV correctly, how to make sure it ‘scans’ well, that sort of thing. I got some really useful tips about my CV which I will definitely be incorporating (and indeed, already have, as I sent a job application off this morning – more about that in a minute). I had a really nice chat with a few people too so it was a useful afternoon. Then I collected my partner from the station and set off for home. Mum arrived around 8ish and we had a nice quiet evening chatting.

Friday Mum and I went to Bradgate Park outside Leicester – neither of us had ever been and it was fun. I had forgotten that there’s a dig going on there, we wandered over to have a look and I was very pleased to be able to chat to a number of staff and students from the Archaeology department at the University. It’s a really interesting dig, looking at different parts and ages of the park and the results will be very interesting to view, should really change how the park is perceived, I think. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to walk very fast due to a sore foot so we weren’t able to walk as far as I would have liked, but I definitely want to return, maybe with my hearing dog when I get him or her.

Saturday I met up with someone who has just completed her thesis on a similar subject to what I’m proposing to do, but in a different area. It was really useful to meet someone to chat with her about it all, but also to hear about her experiences of doing a PhD. I found that the hour and a half time that I had allotted soon disappeared and I was late to meet my partner and Mum. Once we’d met up, we went to the Richard III centre in Leicester. Its an interesting experience. It didn’t really tell us very much that we didn’t already know, as we’ve all watched the various TV programmes about the history and the dig. Parts of the exhibition left a little to be desired – Mum commented that in places, with different speakers booming out different bits of information, she felt her ears were a bit overwhelmed and assaulted, almost. I particularly liked the way that the exhibition featured the changing perceptions of Richard through the centuries, the way that the story was manipulated by different historians and playwrights for their own purposes. It really demonstrates how history is never about ‘the truth’, but different people’s versions and perspectives – and to me, that is what makes history so interesting. Sadly we weren’t able to view inside the Cathedral & Richard’s new resting place as the Cathedral was closed for the afternoon. So we went and had a nice lunch, and then home to rest my poor foot – I was limping very badly by this point.

Sunday we relaxed and chatted some more, cooked good food, and Mum left in the afternoon. In the evening my partner and I joined some friends to play Ingress in Wigston, turning Wigston a nice shade of blue.

Today has been very much about getting back to work. I did a lengthy job application form this morning for a job that would be part time (2.5 days a week) and would continue throughout the next year. I have serious hopes for this and put in some hard work into the form. I’ve also written a lot of emails, catching up from correspondence that came in last week while I was neglecting my uni work. I also did a little reading and some washing up – the never-ending washing up!

The majority of this week should be much quieter, and I hope to get the Coward book finished – I need to start making more inroads into more books and articles as I only have July left before I need to start working on primary source material.I also hope to spend some time working on the Charnwood Roots project as I owe them some serious time and work.

what the… where’s the day gone?

you know that moment when you suddenly realise you’re hungry and you look at the clock and are stunned at how late it is?

… yeah. that.

Today has been amazingly productive. I like days like today, where I feel like I’m getting somewhere and not just doing my hamster on a wheel impersonation. So far:

  • Read through, and made notes on, the sample CVs, cover letters and applications that were sent out to us as part of the preparation for the New History Lab workshop on Thursday;
  • Replied to an email sorting out a meeting on saturday;
  • Made some notes from a PhD how-to book – E.M. Phillips and D.S. Pugh, How to get a PhD: A handbook for Students and their Supervisors (5th edn, Maidenhead, 2010);
  • Contacted a conference organiser about getting communication support for a conference in November;
  • Applied for two jobs (temporary admin jobs for the summer);
  • Replied to a fellow academic whose research interests are sort of touching on mine;
  • Wrote a blog on yesterday’s exploits, and a blog on today’s accomplishments;
  • Created a poster for a friend who is setting up a website celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MA I’m doing, so that it can be publicised at an important lecture on Saturday;
  • Had lunch. late. very late!

Not bad. Not bad at all! Its now 5pm; I have to leave to collect my partner from the station at around 6.30pm, so in the remaining time, I’ve got to clean the bathroom and do the washing up. And then, if I get time, I can read more of the Coward book or the how-to book. That’s doable. I think!

half day

Yesterday was very much a half day – I wasn’t feeling too well in the morning – so relatively little was accomplished. Most of the day circulated around planning, answering emails, catching up with admin, that sort of thing.

One good thing was that a new course on Developing your Research Project started at FutureLearn, which I signed up for a while back. An eight week course, it’s already earned its way by highlighting a couple of areas that I needed to pay attention to – I had no idea where I was supposed to submit my PhD Proposal to, and what the word count was for it, if any. That’s now been rectified and some preliminary notes made on it, although it’s very much a work in progress and will be for some time.

This week is a busy one, both professionally and personally. Thursday there is a New History Lab workshop being held at Uni on applying for research funding or research jobs, with feedback on the academic CV and applications. While I’ve not made any applications (yet!) I’ve definitely got an academic CV and this workshop should be very useful – I’m really looking forward to it. On Saturday I am meeting a colleague who has just completed a similar PhD to the one I’m proposing to do, so we’re meeting up for a coffee and a chat – it will be good to speak to someone who’s been there and done it.

Also on Thursday, my mother will be coming for the weekend – we’re hoping to do some touristy stuff, visit Newark and the National Civil War Museum, maybe do the National Civil War Trail which I did as part of my MA course back in Easter and it was very good, the Augmented reality app was brilliant, great fun if you have bloodthirsty youngsters! We’ll also be visiting the King Richard III Visitor Centre and the Cathedral nearby, see his grave, as well as other parts of Old Leicester. So most of the next few days will be taken up in preparation for one or other of these things.